As a 16-year-old, and a part of a small team looking to establish a youth work at Wensleydale Evangelical Church, I have been considering how to present the gospel to young people in 2005.
I’m sure you know, if you’ve had any experience of young people, that they are strange creatures. Not only do they not appreciate the glories of Wesley’s hymns, but they would rather listen to what seems a mass of noise. Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.
The greatest challenge to mankind is not to split the atom or climb the highest mountain. Ask any parent – the hardest thing to do is hold a normal conversation with a teenager. But even the strangest people can be saved! In this article I hope to show that with love and a Christlike heart we can reach young people with the gospel that brings salvation.
Youth work will vary, but the core of any such work is the same whether you’re out in the dales like me, or in the back streets of an inner city. Here are some basics.
Stick to the message
There is a great temptation to add something to the Bible to attract teenagers. But we are warned against this in Revelation 22:18: ‘if anyone adds to these [words of the prophecy] God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book’. By trying to ‘jazz up the gospel’ (as they put it) you run the risk of breaking this command.
So how do we avoid this? Young people may seem like social outcasts but they are not stupid. If you tell them the gospel straight they will understand what you mean – if God opens their ears and minds.
The ‘Word of God’ is just that – God’s Word. He always speaks through his Word and has done for centuries past. Think back to your own conversion. Was it not the power of God’s Word that made you see that the way you were living was wrong and against God’s law?
I would suggest it was. God says in Ezekiel 2 (well worth a read) that we are to give the message to the people, and let God save them – that’s his job not ours.
The basic issue here is to stand by the biblical gospel. Don’t compromise the message because you think the youth of today can’t take it. They need the stern rebuke and the mercy that follows, just as much as you did when you first bowed in submission to Christ. Don’t ‘tailor’ the message. Present it clearly and let the message tailor them.
Thinking back to the days before I was saved, certain youth leaders stand out. They were not necessarily the best speakers, but they were people who believedin what they said. And you could tell they believed it because they were enthusiastic and sincere.
Let’s face it. Modern youths lead, on the whole, pretty aimless and boring lives. We who know Christ have a life that is full of meaning and purpose – and we want them to have it too.
It pains us to see young people dressed in black and propping up the chip shop wall. Show them how much we care, and they will see a heart that is full of joy because of Christ.
Be prepared to listen
Youth work almost always starts as friendship evangelism. Be honest about your faith and befriend these young people. They may be shy to start with but after a while they begin to realise that you’re ‘all right’.
As you do befriend these individuals, show them that you have a genuine interest in how they are and where they stand before Christ. They will start to open up to you. When this happens many people are embarrassed and try to change the subject. But that is the worst thing you could do.
If someone trusts you enough to open up, they will be hurt beyond repair if you react as if you couldn’t care less.
Another bad thing is to talk too much. It’s a humanistic defence mechanism, not something you’ll find in the Bible. We feel that if we talk we won’t look stupid or get embarrassed.
But quite often this will make the young person think twice about what he or she will tell you. And if you are always talking, they may be afraid that you will gossip about them to others. The best thing you can do is listen.
Know your Bible
There are many examples in the Bible of Jesus listening. And if he is to be our role model, then listening is an important quality. Listen to them – and when they have finished, offer some words of encouragement and advice from the Bible.
I said earlier that we should base everything on the gospel, and that includes normal conversation. Don’t just go silent or come out with, ‘Well… erm… yeah’ (which I find myself doing a lot).
Make sure that you read your Bible a lotand that you know a lotof it. If you do, God will bring the right verses to mind. Listen, speak, and leave the rest to him.
Live the real life in the unreal world
This is important in youth work. What you dois just as much a witness as what you say. If someone is closed to the gospel they may not hear what you say when you tell them about a loving Saviour – who died to save them from God’s wrath and a lost eternity in hell. But they will seethat you are different by the way you act.
Be careful about your language, your conduct and the kind of jokes you tell. These can be enough to put anyone off if your lifestyle looks no different from everyone else’s. So read your Bible, pray and let Jesus mould you into what he wants you to be.
By humbly seeking God’s face on a daily basis your witness around young people will be great – not by your effort but Christ’s grace.
Use your testimony
One thing the United Beach Missions have taught me is that while we are not all good speakers, we all have a testimony – a powerful story of God’s grace to an undeserving sinner.
This is a great way to break the ice. But more than that, it lodges in the young person’s mind. They see you are human and that you used to be just like them, a sinner. But now you have changed to a sinner saved by grace.
Many times in conversations that were going nowhere, I have slipped in my testimony. I’ve been very honest about what I was like before I was saved. I explain how Christ brought me to a place where I realised I was wrong and gave me an aim and way in life that was not centred on money or other materialistic things.
Remember to use the Bible and be ready to quote Scripture. You may well get a blank response, but don’t be disheartened. You have sown the seed that God may use in his own time to bring a sinner to himself.
God doesn’t mind an organised Christian. If your youth night activities are well organised you can concentrate more on talking to people and sowing the seeds.
But above all you must be prepared to lead a young soul to Christ. If they show interest then talk to them, read with them and pray with them. I recommend that they read the Gospel of Mark. It’s simple, easy to understand and hard hitting. If someone is seriously considering trusting Christ that book explains it all.
And if they repent and believe, be ready to receive them with open arms into the church of Jesus Christ.
The Bible says that the angels celebrate when a sinner is saved. We have the privilege of sharing the gospel and winning souls for Christ. So we must not just plan our ‘youth activities’ and be content to see no change in the attendees.
Pray for their salvation and expect to see answers. That is a clear biblical principle. Be organised but also be prepared. Focus on the conversations rather than the brilliantly planned activities. God works through you. Praise him for it!
It is my prayer that every church may have the joy of bringing young souls to Christ – and the thrill of seeing every aspect of their lives changed through faith in their Lord and Saviour.
But I must warn you – even saved young people may not like Wesley’s hymns! Try to understand them by listening to Christian bands like Deliriousand The Rock-N-Roll Worship Circus. Like I said, young people are strange creatures and will often break away from the social etiquette you are used to.
But even if you detest their music and can’t stand their ways, remember that God is no respecter of persons. Try to appreciate young people and thank God that he can work through you to bring them to salvation.